OAKLAND, Calif. -- As the rest of the San Antonio Spurs players and coaches scurried off the floor at the University of San Francisco to board buses bound for the team hotel Tuesday morning, guard Jonathon Simmons figured he’d fire up some corner 3s to end shootaround on a high note.
Clang, thud, clang, thud, clang, clang, clang.
In all, Simmons fired up eight shots.
Assistant coach Ime Udoka dished. Simmons continued to miss.
Fast-forward to nearly 10 hours later, minutes after the Spurs demolished the Golden State Warriors 129-100 in the first regular-season outing of the post-Tim Duncan era, in part because of Kawhi Leonard’s career-high 35 points, a 26-point outburst from LaMarcus Aldridge, and a breakout performance from Simmons (career-high 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting). Despite Simmons’ awful brick clinic at the morning shootaround, he never once worried how that might transfer to the real game.
San Antonio took a similar approach in playing its first contest in 20 years without Duncan on the roster. They also were without starting shooting guard Danny Green, who will be out for approximately three weeks because of a strained quadriceps.
“Just be confident and shoot your shot,” Simmons said.
The entire team did pretty much the same in improving to 18-2 in season openers under coach Gregg Popovich, which ranks as the best winning percentage in season openers by any head coach in NBA history.
The victory ranked as San Antonio’s largest margin of victory in a season-opening road game since it defeated the Dallas Mavericks in 1991 by 41 points.
“I don’t know,” Popovich said. “It’s not that big a deal. We just won a game. Maybe we shot better. Maybe we didn’t turn it over as much. I don’t know. I haven’t looked at the stat much.”
There's no need to tell the story of how this game played out.
While Duncan served as the center of everything the Spurs did defensively throughout his tenure, the team made it a point Tuesday night to exploit Golden State’s lack of size and rim protection as well as its lack of depth with Aldridge (14 rebounds) and the retooled bench.
San Antonio out-rebounded the Warriors 55-35. But that statistic becomes more telling when offensive rebounds are taken into account. The Spurs gobbled up 21 offensive boards, compared to Golden State’s eight.
Considering the Warriors connected on an uncharacteristic 21.2 percent from 3-point range (7 of 33), the significance of those precious second-chance scoring opportunities is magnified.
“Well, I thought to come out of the gate and guard a team that runs offense as well as they do, I thought our new guys and young guys did a good job of that,” Popovich said. “We made some mistakes and got burned for it, but I thought overall, for the first outing with kind of a different group, I thought they did a good job.”
The Spurs entered the matchup Tuesday without Duncan or Green, with one new starter (Pau Gasol) and five new rotational players (Simmons, Dewayne Dedmon, David Lee, Davis Bertans, Nicolas Laprovittola and rookie Bryn Forbes).
“[Duncan’s absence], it changes [the team] a lot,” Leonard said. “Just not him being here, having his personality here with us every day. But I guess, I know Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili] have a drive to keep this organization going, as well as me and L.A. [Aldridge]. So I just want to keep having a winning culture, and keep the Spurs organization moving forward.”
Ginobili, who said the Spurs needed to play “close to perfect” to have a chance to defeat the Warriors, said his team likely competed more loosely than Golden State, which maybe played a role in the Spurs' success.
“Probably, they did have more pressure with all the attention they have drawn the last couple months,” Ginobili said. “So maybe we did. But for them, the changes are deeper than ours. We added one guy to the rotation, the starting lineup, and the backup bigs. But they added two [starters]. [Kevin] Durant is a big piece and you have to adjust. And [Andrew] Bogut was a big part of what they did. [Zaza] Pachulia is trying to figure it out. So, they are going through some changes, and with the talent they have, they are going to get better, for sure.”
Before both teams pulled all the starters at the 3:41 mark of the fourth quarter, San Antonio had driven the ball inside on 42 occasions, creating 44 points from those drives, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s significant, considering the Warriors allowed an average of 23 points last season on drives.
“It’s just one game,” Aldridge said. “We didn’t win a championship or anything like that. It was about getting better. It was a nice start for us.”
Interestingly, the Warriors owned a scoring differential of plus-5 when the foursome of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green were on the court at the same time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. When one of the four left the court, that differential turned into minus-34 as San Antonio exposed Golden State’s lack of reliable depth.
Leonard, meanwhile, poured in more points than Duncan or David Robinson ever did in a season opener. Leonard’s 35 points ranked as the most a Spurs player has scored in a season opener since George Gervin scored 35 against the Kansas City Kings on Oct. 30, 1981.
“He basically tells me what he wants to do now,” Popovich said of Leonard. “He’ll take the ball. He’ll send the screener away. He’ll decide if he wants to go one-on-one with no screen, no pick. He is much more demonstrative, looks for his shots more. He knows he has a green light. I think that’s the difference. He’s making 3s or he’s driving it. Now he’s finding people on the court. While people are giving him attention, he’s finding people like Patty Mills for wide-open shots. He’s a tough cover. He’s really just more confident, more aggressive, more hungry to score than in the past.”
This latest evolution of the San Antonio Spurs needs to be the same, even without Duncan in the middle.